Drunken driving takes especially deadly toll during the holidays

Threat even greater for LGBTs, who have higher rates of alcohol abuse

Momentum is building for the last blast of the 2011 holiday season, but not everyone should count on waking up safe and sound in their own bed on New Year’s Day with the traditional celebratory hangover.

The more fortunate partygoers will find themselves on an old friend’s sofa, in bed with a new friend or even in a jail cell with a bunch of strangers. But the less lucky won’t be waking up at all because they will be part of the year’s statistics on impaired driving fatalities.

That’s why U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he kicked off a nationwide crackdown on impaired driving on Dec. 13 in an attempt to remind Americans they risk killing others or themselves if they get behind the wheel drunk or stoned.

Impaired driving fatality statistics for 2010 released by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed a decrease in many states in comparison to the previous year, but 10,228, or one-third, of the fatalities on American highways still involved intoxication.

David-Webb

David Webb The Rare Reporter

The fatality statistics spiked during the second half of December, when drinking traditionally becomes more prevalent apparently because of holiday parties. The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported that 40 percent of traffic deaths during the Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays involved drunken driving.

The risk increases during the holidays because it is a time when many people uncharacteristically drink to excess and take on one of the characteristics of what is known as hardcore drunken driving.

Hardcore drunken driving refers to anyone who gets behind the wheel with a blood-alcohol account of 0.15 or above, does so repeatedly and is resistant to changing that behavior. For the past decade, fatality statistics show that 70 percent of impaired drivers responsible for the deaths had a blood-alcohol account of 0.15 or higher.

It is an issue of particular concern to the LGBT community because many studies have shown a high incidence of alcohol and drug abuse among its members.

In connection with the national anti-drunken driving campaign that carries the slogan, “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” alcohol awareness educators are warning revelers to understand how beer, wine and liquor affect the human body.  Many occasional and frequent drinkers apparently harbor misconceptions about the effects of alcohol.

Alcohol impairs coordination, driving skills, reflex time and judgment long before the drinker or anyone else notices signs of intoxication, and it can spark aggression that makes the driver more dangerous on the road.

Even after an individual quits drinking, alcohol in the stomach continues to enter the bloodstream and affect the brain for hours. Coffee or other caffeine drinks do not reduce the effects of alcohol and do not make the impaired driver any safer. Only time can counteract the detrimental effects of alcohol.

Educators advise party-goers to take a cab or to designate someone to drive who isn’t drinking. Otherwise, anyone planning to get behind the wheel should not have any more than one alcoholic drink per hour, and it would be a good idea for every other drink to be nonalcoholic.

No one should rely on someone else to monitor and take care of then on New Year’s Eve or any other holiday party. No matter whether the reveler is at a private party or a nightclub, the person in charge may be far too busy to notice the drinker is impaired.

The bottom line is that many citizens who typically would not dream of breaking the law risk doing exactly that if they drink to excess and try to drive themselves home. The legal limit is 0.08 in most states these days, and that only amounts to two or three drinks for many people.

Others who have problems with alcohol and other drugs should seek help before they get behind the wheel again and risk the lives of themselves and others.

Anyone who drives drunk this New Year’s Eve risks getting arrested, being jailed, bonding out of jail, hiring a lawyer, going to court, possibly going back to jail, serving probation and making huge financial expenditures. It is estimated that a drunken driving charge costs about $20,000 when all of the expenses — including increased insurance costs —are tallied.

That is the risk if the drunken driver is lucky and doesn’t have an accident resulting in an injury or fatality. In a worse-case scenario, there won’t ever never be an end to the anguish and devastation affecting everyone involved.

That’s cause enough not to ever go there in the first place.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has reported on LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@hotmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Starvoice • 12.16.11

By Jack Fertig

CELEBRITY BIRTHDAY

Jennifer Beals turns 48 on Monday. The actress came to fame in the iconic ’80s film Flashdance. But it wasn’t until 2004 when she resonated with the lesbian community playing Bette Porter for six seasons of The L Word. Since the show’s cancellation in 2009, she’s been seen in The Book of Eli with Denzel Washington and the canceled 2011 Fox series The Chicago Code.

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THIS WEEK

Just before the solstice when the sun enters Capricorn, Venus will leave Cap for Aquarius. It makes a good combination for looking forward with good imagination and your feet solidly on the ground. Start making sensible plans for next year.

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SAGITTARIUS  Nov 22-Dec 20
Being helpful at holiday parties can get you into a better job. Keep a clear head and the rest should fall into place. Missed opportunities could come knocking again. Don’t rule anything out.

CAPRICORN  Dec 21-Jan 19
While your intuitions about money are on the mark it helps to double-check the facts. Avoid dithering and second-guessing yourself. Being rigorous is good; beating yourself up isn’t.

AQUARIUS  Jan 20-Feb 18
There is such a thing as being too nice when you can’t hide bitchy undertones. There are no secrets. Whatever you say will slip out. Talk about celebrities instead of gossiping.

PISCES  Feb 19-Mar 19
Your intuition and advice are worth more than you realize. If you listened to yourself, you’d be better off! Blurting out a secret proves to your advantage if it’s your secret and nobody else’s.

ARIES  Mar 20-Apr 19
Get wild and creative. Explore new ideas. Just remember you are experimenting. Keep it light and fun. Being too sure of yourself can make you look pompous and/or get you into trouble.

TAURUS  Apr 20-May 20
Make every effort to be open-minded. Your ability to assimilate and gain insight can prove very helpful at work. Opportunity will come soon and unexpectedly; be ready for anything.

GEMINI  May 21-Jun 20
Difficult issues need addressing. Be considerate when telling your partner how you feel. The middle ground between saying too much or too little can be hard to negotiate.

CANCER  Jun 21-Jul 22
High hopes for the holidays are dashed. Reconciling between high ideals and realistic expectations is part of growing up. Taking a longer view will help you keep a positive perspective.

LEO  Jul 23-Aug 22
Christmas is whose birthday? Not yours. You just want to make things fun and bright, but it’s too easy to overdo it. A quiet hug or a small, elegant gesture is often more effective than a big to-do.

VIRGO  Aug 23-Sep 22
Holidays are not about getting historical facts right, disturbing your family with revelations or proving something. Think about what matters, and when and how best to tell them — but later.

LIBRA  Sep 23-Oct 22
Shocking your partner can be a good thing, but not with a cattle prod. When creative passions go overboard let your sweetie reel you in. Just let that be a further creative challenge.

SCORPIO  Oct 23-Nov 21
Your critical eye on community affairs is not always appreciated. Getting the diplomacy right can be a challenge. Don’t be wishy-washy or obtuse. Solicit a friend to help get your point across.

Jack Fertig can be reached at 415-864-8302 or Starjack.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens